Monday, September 21, 2009
He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
I wrestle with this passage alot. John the Baptist is hardcore. He comes on the scene after living for quite some time (Lk. 1:80) in the wilderness (in Matthew's Gospel we get more of a description of this peculiar man). The first words of his first sermon are "you brood of vipers." Nice! He tells them that repentance is required of all of them. He even throws out the name of their beloved Abraham, saying that they can't keep claiming to be his sons and daughters, but then not act anything like him.
The question I've always asked here is, why did they not try to kill him on the spot? I guess I ask this same question when Peter preaches at Pentecost. I believe that the answer on that day was the same answer on this day: they were cut to the heart (Acts 2:37). The Spirit of God was inviting them into relationship with Him. Their response was also similar to that day three years later: "What do we do?" John's answer was similar to Peter's answer: Repent. But John gives some very tangible examples of what that repentance looks like.
Here's where it gets tricky. How am I faring when it comes to John's response of what repentance looks like? John doesn't give one answer for everyone. Repentance is situational. For each person it looks different. It all depends on our sin (which, according to Tim Keller, can be defined as building your identity on anything other than God) . He told tax collectors not to collect more money than they were supposed to. He told solidiers not to use their power to extort money.
It's easy to talk about soldiers and tax collectors, but what about everyone else. John doesn't let them off easy, and he doesn't let us off easy. To everyone else he gave a blanket statement: share what you have with those who are in need. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has social dimensions. I'm intrigued with this phrase "in keeping with." The Greek word is also used in 2 Thessalonians 1:3. Here's my take: these types of good deeds (Acts 26:20), or fruit, as John puts it, ought to be a natural overflow of true repentance in the same way that Paul's giving thanks to God for the Thessalonian church was a natural overflow to what God had done in their lives.
Father, I ask that You search my heart. Am I producing the fruit that You desire, the fruit that should come naturally from a surrendered heart? If not, I repent. I receive Your grace and mercy, and I turn from leading my life. I thank You so much for Your love, forgiveness and mercy, and may my life reflect this in the way that I live today.